Monday, January 11, 2010

Before the Frost, by Henning Mankell (moving along the tbr trail)

my edition

just taking a small break here, working on getting through my tbr pile, which really requires a lot of attention.

I'm a huge Henning Mankell fan, and I love Kurt Wallander.  All through the series, his daughter Linda has always been there, but here she plays a major role. The book is touted as "a Kurt and Linda Wallander novel," and from that I gather that he's planning to write more with the father-daughter duo as a unit.  After Wallander solo, it's going to be tough, because that particular series is so good that it's really difficult to top. And thus, we come to this particular novel, Before the Frost.

The novel opens with, of all things, an escapee from the horrible Jonestown Massacre that happened in Guyana in November of 1978. Fast forward a few years to an unknown figure setting swans on fire in Sweden. What the two have in common will be made obvious as the story progresses.

Linda Wallander has finished up at the police academy and is waiting for her first assignment in Ystad.  For the time being she's staying with her dad, Inspector Wallander, and decides to go catch up with some old friends.  One of these friends, Anna, tells Linda that she's just seen her long-lost father, then Anna disappears. Linda tries to get her father interested in finding Anna, but  Kurt Wallander and his team are looking into the disappearance and death of another woman, whose name mysteriously appears in Anna's journal, later found by Linda. The coincidence leads Wallander to believe that maybe Linda's got something here.   From here, the story takes several strange twists and turns, and the investigation leads them to a rather bizarre group who have set a deadline for something terrible to happen.

To be honest, this isn't my favorite book featuring Kurt Wallander. It tends to drag in places, is a bit melodramatic, and the core mystery is a bit over the top, as in the prior book featuring Wallander, Firewall. Considering that this is "Kurt and Linda" Wallander novel, Kurt tends to play less of a role than his daughter.  My guess is that Mankell wants the readers to become more familiar with Linda in her new role, especially if there will be more novels featuring this pair. Many of the other characters, especially the really bad guys, just didn't ring true to me, and it seemed like the addition of Linda in her new role toned down the edginess and suspense of Mankell's other Wallander novels.

Mankell is great at police procedurals as well as intense social criticism, and that's what keeps me reading his books. It will definitely be interesting (if he chooses to continue the series featuring father and daughter) to see if Linda Wallander and younger members of the police turn out to be as cynical about their society as is Kurt Wallander and his group, or if the generational aspect leads them to view things in a different light. I would still recommend it for Mankell and Wallander fans, and for fans of Swedish crime novels in general. I wouldn't make this one my first Wallander novel, but would definitely start with Faceless Killers and move through the series in order.

Overall...not my favorite, but it wasn't bad, either.

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